MacKinnon: Canadian women’s basketball team one step away from Rio

 

 
 
 
 
Canada vs. Brazil semi-finals in the FIBA Americas Women’s Basketball tournament in Edmonton. August 15, 2015.
 

Canada vs. Brazil semi-finals in the FIBA Americas Women’s Basketball tournament in Edmonton. August 15, 2015.

Photograph by: Bruce Edwards, Edmonton Journal

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EDMONTON - Team Canada is one step away.

They are one more victory over Cuba, their intense rival in recent years, from punching their ticket to the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.

In other words, the FIBA Americas Women’s Basketball Championship has unfolded at the Saville Community Sports Centre precisely as planned.

Canada’s 83-66 victory over pre-qualified Brazil was a tougher game than all the others, but the win was hardly unexpected.

Don’t expect Canada to let up now. Counting the Pan American Games in Toronto, Canada has rolled to 10 straight tournament victories this summer.

“We’re ready to keep going,” said team captain Kim Gaucher, who scored 11 points Saturday night against Brazil, one of three Canadians in double figures. “I wish we could play right now.

“It’s going to be a battle, for sure. That wasn’t the best that Cuba showed in the preliminaries and we’re going to be ready for them.”

Canada whomped Cuba 92-43, a 49-point drubbing, in the final round-robin match in front of a sellout crowd of 2,600 plus at the Saville Community Sports Centre on Thursday night.

This was an echo, and a loud one of the 2013 FIBA Americas competition. At that one, Canada also beat Cuba in round-robin play, before losing in the final.

This is a far different Canadian team than 2013. With a young Canadian team seeming to grow in front of our eyes, this is a better team than the one that beat Cuba 71-68 at the Pan American Games in Toronto.

Canada outscored its competition 390-172 in group play in this tournament, its narrowest margin of victory a 38-point romp over Puerto Rico in their tournament opener.

“We are very different from a couple of years ago,” said head coach Lisa Thomaidis. “Cuba is pretty similar, but they made adjustments two years ago from the round-robin game to the final and I imagine it will be the same thing (today)

“We’ve had a good opportunity to have a look at them, but you never know what kind of surprises they might show up with.”

The lopsided victories may have contributed to the non-sellout of about 2,200 at the Saville Centre on Saturday night for what proved to be a tough test and, by far, the most competitive match Canada has played in this tournament.

That should set them up well for the tournament final Sunday (6 p.m.), on many levels.

“There’s a lot of history there,” Gaucher said. “We’re excited, we’re ready to go to battle with them.”

The Brazil match was a far more realistic test for Canada, which has mostly had its way with the competition here, so far.

“Absolutely,” Gaucher said. “It was good to face a little bit of adversity tonight, we haven’t faced that in a while, maybe since Pan Ams (the Pan American Games last month in Toronto).

“So, it’s a very good warm-up for us.”

It has been a three-year warm-up for Canada, which qualified for the 2012 Summer Games in London at a last-chance tournament just two weeks before the Olympics.

Not wanting to repeat that scenario is a huge motivational component on their pathway to Rio.

“It was really stressful the last time (2012),” Gaucher said. “I mean, for us, as players, the uncertainty and the preparation is different.

“If you qualify a year out, you’re training for and peaking in Rio, whereas before we had to train and we had to peak a couple of weeks before the Olympics.”

One more victory and Canada can begin to work on its plan for the 2016 Games, where their sights are set higher than their surprise eighth-place finish in London, or even their fifth-place outcome at the 2014 FIBA Women’s World Cup in Turkey.

“For us, the U.S. is the top team in the world and after that, it’s a lot of really good teams,” Gaucher said. “And we’re one of those really good teams in the mix right now.

“People look at Canada and we’re not an easy win anymore. People look at us and go, ‘OK, Canada is in our group,’ it’s going to be tough. “I think, really, anything is possible. Obviously, we need to take care of business here, first. But we’d like to bring home a medal in Rio.”

The business at hand has now become winning one more game, one more victory over Cuba, basically the scenario they could have written down three years ago.

“We’ve prepared for it,” Thomaidis said. “It’s no accident that we’re here. We’re very well prepared and our team will have a lot of confidence going into (the game).

“But, also, we’re not, by any means, a cocky team. We’re very humble. But we have a quiet confidence about us and there’s a ton of belief in each other right now, what we’re seeing on the floor, different people stepping up and being able to contribute.”

jmackinnon@edmontonjournal.com

Check out my blog at edmontonjournal.com/Sweatsox

Twitter.com/rjmackinnon

 
 
 
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Canada vs. Brazil semi-finals in the FIBA Americas Women’s Basketball tournament in Edmonton. August 15, 2015.
 

Canada vs. Brazil semi-finals in the FIBA Americas Women’s Basketball tournament in Edmonton. August 15, 2015.

Photograph by: Bruce Edwards, Edmonton Journal

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
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